leadership dot #2827: intangibles

I talked with a colleague recently who is having some supervision challenges. Her employee is “good at what he’s doing, but not good at what I need him to do.” Ah, the dilemma.

It is so much easier to correct an employee who is not performing well at all. That conversation is often clear and to the point: Do X if you want to remain employed. But counseling an employee who is doing something well is often more challenging because, more likely than not, what they are not doing can be classified as an intangible.

Supervisors often have a difficult time describing their expectations for the “I’s”: instinct, initiative and integrity. They adopt an “I’ll-know-it-when-I-see-it” mentality which is unfair to the employee who has a very different perspective of what that looks like. Expecting people to lead, exhibit good judgment or be proactive in their work are inherently nebulous concepts but it is incumbent on the supervisor to provide clarity to them.

If you’re onboarding a new employee, spend disproportionate time in talking about your expectations for these intangibles. Give concrete examples of good and bad. Help the employee understand the importance of thinking as well as doing.

And if you have a continuing employee, be intentional in your feedback about the intangibles more than you are about their concrete output. Praise displays of initiative and instinct. Course correct on minor deviations from what you’d like to see. Model the behavior you expect.

If an employee is not doing what you as their supervisor need them to do, the responsibility is on you to clarify the expectations and hold them accountable. Anything less is a failure of your performance, not theirs.

leadership dot #2825: first see

In their new book Leading with Gratitude, authors Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton write that there are two aspects to appreciation: seeing it and expressing it. “Gratitude is not just giving credit where it’s due, it’s knowing where it’s due,” they write.

People must cultivate the first skill of seeing opportunities to recognize before they are able to provide that feedback to others. They theorize that managers are often “hyper-focused on finding problems,” and as a result spend more time on what is going wrong instead of going right. Creating a culture of gratitude begins with seeing small wins and creating milestones that will provide reward markers along the way.

Once you see positive behavior, their mantra is “give it now, give it often, and don’t be afraid.” They point out that the championship trophy is given right after the game, not at the next practice or meeting. Immediately tying appreciation to action is a more powerful expression of gratitude than waiting, and, if it’s genuine, leaders can never give too much of it.

Think about on which side of the equation you need to be more intentional. Do you need to work on your “seeing” — paying more attention to what is working, who is making contributions behind-the-scenes or noticing progress along the journey? Or is your challenge “expressing” – taking the time to write a quick note, acknowledging someone’s behavior or publicly thanking a team?

Learning to lead with gratitude – as a manager, parent, coach or in any other role – is a skill that requires practice like any other. Strengthen your “seeing” or “expressing” muscles with a bit more intentionality today.

leadership dot #2814: magic

There are many magicians out there who can dazzle the audience with their sleight of hand, but few who are able to let others create the magic themselves. One exception is Justin Flom who talked James Corden’s audience – and the masses watching on television – through a trick with cards that allowed them to be the ones doing the dazzling.

Flom shared the instructions with the audience but allowed them to have control over the decisions. He never touched their cards and, in the end, the vast majority of the audience amazed themselves at what they did. It was even more impressive than watching someone perform a trick on stage.

I think this is what good supervision is like. You may have to set the parameters or give the instructions, but ultimately you allow others to create the magic on their own. You need to give up control and assume the risk that it may not work, but more often than not, it’s amazing.

Stop trying to be the one on the stage and instead empower those around you. Your ability to awe will multiply faster than rabbits can.


To do the trick, you need 4 cards per person that you will tear and render useless in the future. His whole segment is 10 minutes, but the audience-generated trick is at 6:08. Enjoy!



leadership dot #2786: high trust

I doubt that thought leader Simon Sinek reads leadership dots, but his latest video makes it seem like he does! His new work fits right in with what I wrote about yesterday (see dot 2785) when he shares what the Navy SEALs taught him about how they select their members – evaluating others on a matrix of performance vs. trust.

The SEALs have learned that the next best thing to a High Performer with High Trust is a Medium or Low Performer with High Trust – not the High Performer with Low Trust as I independently described yesterday. And, as we all know, there are many ways to measure outcomes, but “negligible to no metrics to measure someone’s trustworthiness” says Sinek. Amen!

Even without explicit ways to hire for trust, the trait usually becomes evident early in employment. Supervisors would be wise to reward and recognize team members who exhibit the characteristic and treat trust as even more valuable than other performance metrics.

Watch Sinek’s 2-minute video on the topic here.


leadership dot #2775: compelling

“One of the biggest differentiators between those who are skilled leaders and those who are unskilled leaders, between those who are really leading and those who are leaders in name only, is their effort and ability to craft a compelling vision of where they want to take their groups*.”

I have seen this phenomenon play out over and over – especially with new leaders who are more accustomed to being told the vision instead of having to craft one. I’ve also seen too many leaders who run into problems because they have a vision, but no one else knows what it is. A vision that is not shared does not inspire anyone.

One person who is synonymous with vision is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As you celebrate the holiday today, pause for a few moments to think about his vision for the county. In 1963, King spoke from the March on Washington: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

 How can your vision move your organization forward? What does your dream look like? Share that story with passion to give others a compelling reason to follow.

*Julie Straw, Mike Scullard, Susie Kukkonen, Barry Davis. Work of Leaders: How Vision, Alignment and Execution Will Change the Way You Lead (Wiley, 2013), p. 18 as quoted by Terri Fairchild on LinkedIn.





leadership dot #2758: feeder

I have a bird feeder that allows two birds to eat at the same time directly from the feeder. What happens in reality is that many more birds also eat simultaneously by feasting off the seeds that fall from the feeder while the others are there.

The process is akin to the job of the leaders – those at the feeder do work that makes it possible for others to benefit. It’s not just themselves that they are feeding, rather they create an environment where many others can flourish.

Think about your work: can you do it in such a way that contributes value to more than yourself?

leadership dot #2736: digital

So much for the handwritten note – the latest trend in employee recognition is to issue a digital BadgeBot that people can post on their Twitter account. I’m personally not a fan but apparently, there are others who would find this sort of pat-on-the-back appealing.

There are benefits: digital badges allow the sender to include a picture or even short video sharing with the world the accomplishment of the honoree, and they certainly give new meaning to the idea of “public” recognition when the public includes access to the whole world via the web.

For me, a note of appreciation still is the way to go. I like to give a one-to-one acknowledgment of the person’s contribution as it seems more heartfelt and personal. But leaders need to understand the generational differences and preferences of their staff. As part of learning about those your supervise, seek to gain understanding about the type of recognition that is most meaningful to them: public vs. private, time off vs. monetary compensation, and small Purple Clovers that show you know them.

No matter how you do it, recognizing the good work of others is one of the most important things you do as a supervisor. Don’t let uncertainty about the method prevent you from sharing your message.